VANCOUVER, B.C. – As the Vancouver Whitecaps prepare to take on Real Salt Lake on Saturday (9:30 pm ET, TSN2 in Canada, MLS Live in US), it remains unclear who will comprise the starting lineup – but there's a good chance regardless of who starts, Erik Hurtado will come off the bench to make an impact for the visitors.
The Portland native has changed his side's look in the past two games, picking up an assist in Vancouver's double comeback 2-2 draw with the LA Galaxy last weekend.
It's been a sign of progression for the second year player after a middling rookie season in which he picked up two assists from 15 appearances, starting just four times.
Over that first season, there were observers who expressed frustration at times with Hurtado's heavy touch, and his habit of putting his head down and dribbling into cul-de-sacs rather than looking up and making the simple play.
But over these last two matches, there has seemed a new level of maturity from the player, and his decision-making has seemed more commensurate with his status as a 2013 fifth overall SuperDraft pick – and that's partially down to new Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson, according to the player.
“He stresses all the time that he believes in every player in this squad,” Hurtado told MLSsoccer.com recently. “He's always had that confidence in us, so when I go into a game I just want to do what I've always done.
"On defense, I've got to press them, and on offense I've got to attack them. That's the type of player I am, and I just want to help the team get a point, get three times, and that's what I try to do.”
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Now the next step for Hurtado is to ensure that he continues to get minutes – whether that's regularly as an impact sub, or perhaps as a starter if he can make a compelling case to Robinson through his play.
“Honestly, for me right now, I just got to keep patient,” Hurtado said. “Whatever the team needs. If I can help the team when I come on, then yeah, if the team's winning and I don't go on, then it's good for the team. Me, personally, I like playing and I like getting minutes.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.